A Content Strategy Conversation — Mark Lewis

This is part of the series of conversations that I originally published in ContentHug, in 2015.

Thank you Mark Lewis.


[CH]: A few content strategists got into this role because ‘nobody else was doing it, and so there was a need for content strategists in the team’. Now, since it has kicked off relatively well, what next to address something else. For example if we talk about titles, what can be the next title of a senior content strategist. If not for title, what next in terms of ownership or value to a business?

[ML]: We need to raise awareness of the need for content engineering. There has been a significant increase of effort on this topic by thought leaders. See Cruce Saunders’s eBook Content Engineering. See AhavaLeibtag’s recent blog. Check out the Content Wrangler blog post on Content Strategists becoming Content Engineers and be sure to read the extremely valuable comments. There are dozens of them. In particular, read the comment from mega thought leader Joe Gollner of Gnostyx Research and further discussions on his Content Philosopher blog. Stay tuned for more new thoughts on this topic from Joe.

[CH]: Assume that you get your dream job or contract, as a content strategist, lead or otherwise. What is the most important thing that you have learnt so far that you will put into practice there?

[ML]: We’re practicing it now and it’s not necessarily the most important thing, but definitely worth discussing. We’re producing content modelling reports and design documents that are consumable by both the client and Engineering. They are two different audiences that speak different languages. We’ve been perfecting getting the right blend of information into the reports to clearly define each concept to each audience.

It can be a challenge to produce reports that have “just enough” information in them. The tendency is to be verbose which can lead to excessively long reports that are hard to consume and extend the approval cycle.

[CH]: Content strategists often need to push things around, such as to get a buy in. Can you share some experience when you had to take a really tough call, such as for style guide for voice, for user education, or governance structure?

[ML]: On short notice, I found myself at a client that knew they needed to migrate to a digital publishing solution. Their current solution was non-XML based and they had too many manual steps in authoring, reviewing, publishing and translation. And, they were going to have to produce many new information products in the near future.

They knew they had an unsustainable situation and that they could not add new products to the workload they already had. But, what did not truly understand the benefits of structured content. They were still thinking in terms of monolithic documents. But, I saw the huge savings that were possible if they componentized their content.

I decided that I could not rock the boat right then and there. So, I went home and prepared a presentation showing repositories of reusable components flowing into other components and into their documents. And I showed Venn diagrams that illustrated their reuse domains all of this based on THEIR content. By giving a custom presentation based on their content, they quickly understood the benefits. It was a huge shift in thinking for them, but they nicknamed it Component World and from that point on saw all of their content as components.

[CH]: How do organizations address the content ownership concerns when we have content strategists, content marketers and even data scientists? What is your role in defining the content ownership process?

[ML]: This is not usually a challenge. At the same time that we are working with a client to break down their content into components based on content type, reuse scope, etc., we are also designing the work flows for each component type and for the documents. During this activity, the responsibility/owner for each piece of content becomes clear or it is hasn’t become clear then we start interviewing the client to answer that question. For example, one client had a data service we integrated with in order to create the charts that were embedded in their narrative content. The contracts between our solution and internal data service were clearly defined. So determining ownership and responsibility is not usually a challenge in our projects.

[CH]: What role content strategists can have in disruption–technology or otherwise?

[ML]: We must continue to be the voice of education. We must continue to analyze bleeding edge technologies and determine the real benefits and risks. We must continue to communicate the benefits and risks to both executives and end-users so that they can make educated decisions on whether or not to incorporate these technologies. But long before this, I think we should be involved further upstream establishing the requirements and design of these technologies, rather than getting involved after they have been implemented.

[CH]: If you could weave a magic wand only once, what you wish as a content strategist?

[ML]: As a content sorcerer, I hear the beating wings of a distant but fast approaching dragon. This dragon is all of the new content requirements that are coming with smart products, new display devices and the internet of things. I’ve started discussing this challenge/opportunity in my new blog series called Alignment. Read. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/alignment-introduction-mark-lewis

As a community of content sorcerers, we all need to be aiming our magic wands at this common problem and be prepared before the dragon arrives.


Vinish Garg | Products. Experience. Stories.